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Northwoods Coalition part of statewide women's shelter network

A woman fleeing an abusive relationship might find her hometown shelter with no vacancies. On the other hand, even if the local shelter has vacancies, the victim might want to put some distance between her home and the refuge.

Bemidji's Northwoods Coalition for Family Safety serves the counties of Beltrami, Cass, Hubbard, Clearwater, Mahnomen and Lake of the Woods. However, through the Day One Program, Northwoods Coalition is linked to shelters around Minnesota to together respond to emergency situations.

"Through our Day One Program, they get bused here, and we pick them up at the bus station," said Trudy Ambuehl, house manager and advocate at Bemidji's Northwoods Coalition for Family Safety .

Sometimes women and children seeking shelter come to Bemidji through Twin Cities shelters. If these shelters are at capacity, their directors click on the Day One Web site, which alerts them to which shelters have rooms available.

The service is also reciprocal, Ambuehl said. If the Northwoods Coalition is at the nine-occupant capacity, a manager here will go to Day One to find housing elsewhere for those in need.

Ambuehl said hard economic times raise the likelihood of domestic violence "because a lot of the fighting is over finances."

She said winter also is a difficult time for women to pack up young children and leave abusive relationships. Leaving also can be dangerous to the victims, she said.

"That's the scariest time," Ambuehl said.

She said she has worked as a family violence advocate for 23 years.

"And I'm still learning," she said. "But I feel good when I can help somebody because I've been there myself 24 years ago."

Kathryn Lavelle, outreach and education specialist at Northwoods Coalition, said 23 women and 17 children in the last five months received shelter services in Bemidji through the Day One Program. Most of them came here from Minneapolis, she said, but a few had made their way from Chicago to the Twin Cities and were referred to Bemidji through the program.

In the last year, 128 women and 36 children sought shelter at the Northwoods Coalition house, but 208 women and children had to be turned away. Director Breanna Davis said those turned away were referred to other shelters through the Day One Program and other services. She added that there are currently 600 people in Northwoods Coalition support groups.

Lavelle and Ambuehl said the shelter is small and needs renovation. Lavelle said Mike Bredon and Eric Nelson of Seven Visions, a local independent film company, are making a pro bono documentary of the shelter's needs. They plan to submit finished film to the "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" television series as an application for Northwoods Coalition.

Davis said the hope is to enlarge the shelter to accommodate 20 people.

The Bemidji shelter opened on June 12, 1978, as the Northwoods Coalition for Battered Women. The name change during the 30th anniversary year came as an effort to make all victims of domestic abuse feel welcome. The shelter also offers services to male victims of abuse, as well as education and outreach programs.